In mid-2008, then-Senator Barack Obama gave an interview on military and troops issues.
“Precisely because I have not served in uniform, I am somebody who strongly believes I have to earn the trust of men and women in uniform,” Obama said as he contrasted his lack of service with that of Republican presidential candidate John McCain, a former prisoner of war, Vietnam veteran and Navy retiree who has years of experience in Congress working on national security issues.
“I do not presume that from the day I am sworn in, every single service man or woman suddenly says, This guy knows what he is doing,’ ” said Obama, a freshman senator from Illinois, in his most extensive interview to date on a wide range of military issues.
He wanted those of us in uniform to look at him as “a guy looking out for us and not someone trying to score cheap political points.” A few months later, Obama was elected to be the next commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
In mid-2009, a few military bloggers and I were invited to meet with Obama administration in the Roosevelt Room next to the Oval Office. Unlike when I went to the White House in 2007 during the Bush Administration, Obama didn’t come out to meet with us in person. Whereas the Bush administration embraced the autonomy of bloggers to tell their stories, it quickly became apparent that the Obama administration wanted us to push an agenda.
While in the Roosevelt Room, I reminded Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel what his boss had said the previous year about earning respect. I then listed off the things Obama was doing to betray that statement and our trust. I then asked how in the world we could look at him with confidence to take care of the troops judging by his administrations actions so far. The answer was political spin about “we’re just getting our feet under us” blah blah blah. Yet, they never rescinded any of these efforts. At least it can’t get any worse, right?
Now the National Guard is demanding that Soldiers pay back bonuses that they apparently weren’t supposed to get. Let me explain a little about how this works. Soldiers go to enlist or reenlist in the military. Depending on the job they go into, there may or may not be money involved. Typically, you don’t know until the recruiter or career manager informs you about them. If there is a bonus attached to the contract, you sign that contract agreeing to give x amount of time in exchange for x amount of dollars. It’s not like Soldiers can bargain or demand money that they aren’t entitled to. So, when they get a bonus, Soldiers have to assume that everything is legit, especially since there is a LOT of paperwork involved in the process. They don’t just hand you money – it’s written into a legal and binding contract.
What does anyone do when they earn money? They either spend it, invest with it, or save it. Because the National Guard doesn’t pay much, one can easily guess that most Soldiers spend the money they’ve received by contract for their service. Yet, when Obama demands money back that they don’t have, this can be devastating. He is holding the wrong people responsible for the error when these leaders who were allegedly dishing out money they weren’t supposed to just complain about it, but there are no consequences for them ruining these lives.
“These bonuses were used to keep people in,” said Christopher Van Meter, a 42-year-old former Army captain and Iraq veteran from Manteca, Calif., who says he refinanced his home mortgage to repay $25,000 in reenlistment bonuses and $21,000 in student loan repayments that the Army says he should not have received. “People like me just got screwed.”
And that’s putting it mildly. Retired Army Master Sergeant Susan Haley put it even more succinctly.
“I feel totally betrayed,” said Haley, 47, who served 26 years in the Army along with her husband and oldest son, a medic who lost a leg in combat in Afghanistan.
Haley, who now lives in Kempner, Texas, worries they may have to sell their house to repay the bonuses. “They’ll get their money, but I want those years back,” she said, referring to her six-year reenlistment.
Often, that bonus is the only thing that makes staying in or joining really worth the hassle. Military service isn’t very enjoyable, especially after eight years of Obama destroying morale, using troops as social experimentation experiments, and undermining readiness.
Here’s the problem: this is going to have a ripple effect in future decisions by Soldiers in enlisting or reenlisting and “qualifying” for a bonus. Understandably, they can no longer trust the military to honor their part in the contract. Who wants to engage in a relationship with a party that can just rescind the terms of an agreement?